Biography of Saiko Shihan Y. Oyama
Saiko Shihan Y. Oyama ( L) and Soshu S. Oyama (R)
Chapter 9 - DEATH MATCH
I’ve mentioned about finally catching up to Haruyama, but I need to tell you also about my big fight with my brother, Soshu S. Oyama. At that time, Mas Oyama didn’t hesitate to match fathers against sons or brothers and other family members against each other during Kumite. His philosophy was always the same—no matter who was in front of you, you had to beat them. That changed after the last fight Soshu S. Oyama and I had with each other.
After years of struggling, I finally got to the point where I really felt that I understood Karate. I could feel myself getting stronger and faster—everything finally clicked. One of the beauties of Karate is that these types of realizations come instantaneously after long periods of effort. At the time, it feels like going through a long, long dark tunnel. Your fills with doubts and you begin to question if you are really on the right path. Then suddenly, you reach an opening and see daylight and blue sky! This is the type of feeling people have in their training when they have a sudden awakening and all of their hard work and sacrifice pays off.
For some endeavors, progress is easy to see over time as it happens. For example, a weightlifter can easily see the results of their efforts in the mirror every couple of months. But in Karate, there’s a lot of uncertainty and second-guessing when it comes to seeing improvement. Somedays you feel good, but soon after that you’ll hit a wall. Maybe you fight against someone with a different strategy and you feel lost and unprepared and back at square one. There’s a lot of ups and downs, but sprinkled in are electric moments where everything clicks together and you can instantly see how the hard training has paid off. As I’ve mentioned earlier, my last fight with Haruyama when I caught him with a sankaku geri was one of those moments.
At the end of one class, Mas Oyama paired me with my brother for Kumite. I was a Black Belt at that time, but I could tell that Soshu S. Oyama still saw me as the dumb younger brother he’d always known. When we started, we fought pretty hard, but not full-out. At one point, I tried to get in close and punch him in the chest. When I did, he blocked and slapped me across the face with a loud “Pop!”. Something within me snapped. I waited patiently as we continued fighting. My chance came when he moved in close. I smacked him hard across the face with an even louder “Pop!”. He was shocked.
The whole dojo was surprised. Even Mas Oyama couldn’t believe it. While Soshu S. Oyama stood there with his eyes popped open, I just smiled—now he knew that I was different. I wasn’t the little brother he could push around anymore. After the initial shock, his face grew angrier and angrier. We fought again but this time with all-out ferocity. This fight became very famous in the history of Kyokushin. We tried to destroy each other. Towards the end, we both punched each other in the face. Unfortunately, his arm was longer than mine, so my punch hit his nose, but not with much impact. His punch, on the other hand, hit me square in the face and busted my nose and top lip. Finally, Mas Oyama shouted, “Yame!”, but he had to say it a couple times before we stopped completely.
“You guys are brothers,” Mas Oyama said, “but you’re trying to kill each other! From now on, you’re never allowed to fight each other in the dojo again.” A while after that, I began to lose my passion for training. Senpai Yasuda had graduated college and was too busy to come to the dojo regularly anymore. Haruyama was also pretty much gone and I wasn’t allowed to fight my brother anymore, so I didn’t have the same motivation anymore. It was like going to a big 4th of July fireworks show. The show itself is exciting and spectacular, but afterwards, things are quiet—the party is over. Training just wasn’t the same anymore.
Although he didn’t come to the dojo anymore, there were a few instances during this time that I ran into Haruyama outside the dojo. In the middle of Tokyo, there is a large covered stadium called Tokyo Dome. It’s the home field for the Yomuri Giants professional baseball team. When I was a freshman in college, it wasn’t a dome, but just a large outdoor baseball stadium. There was also an ice skating rink and amusement park connected to it where my friends and I would go in our free time. One day, three of my college friends and I were at the amusement park. In the distance, we could see a huge guy in bright clothes strutting towards us. There was a group of similarly dressed guys walking behind him. As he got closer, I realized it was Haruyama. He was even bigger than before with an even meaner face. As he and his group approached I said, “Osu! Haruyama!”. He recognized me and pulled me off to the side.
“Osu, Yasuhiko!” He smiled, then quickly added, “I control this entire territory. You cannot call me “Haruyama” out here in front of these guys.”
“Oh, sorry, what should I call you?”
“Kumajiro-san,” he said.
“So, you guys need anything?” Haruyama asked my friends and I. My friends didn’t know what to think, they just stood straight with their jaws open.
“No, no,” I said, “We’re OK, but thank you, Kumajiro-san.” We watched everyone scurry out of their way as Haruyama and his group continued walking. “Wow, Oyama,” one of my friends said, “Are you yakuza?”
“No, I just know him from before.”
I also ran into Haruyama at the beach one time. I was with my oldest brother, Hiroshi. He had driven us in his truck all night and we arrived at Tokyo’s Enoshima beach in the early morning. In those days, there were rows and rows of beach houses and resting areas and restaurants that catered to beachgoers. Once we arrived, we started trying to figure out the most economical place to stay. We saw a group of men in Hawaiian shirts walking along the beach. I recognized Haruyama as the huge guy in front. When he saw me he smiled and said, “Oh, Yasuhiko, nice to see you!”
“Great to see you, too,” I said. Then added, “How should I address you?”
“Kumajiro-san,” he answered.
“Osu, Kumajiro-san, this is my brother, Hiroshi,” I said.
“Nice to meet you,” Haruyama said.
“Nice to meet you too,” Hiroshi said. I could tell he was surprised to see that I knew someone like Haruyama.
“What are you guys doing out here?” Haruyama asked.
“We just got here and are looking for a place to stay,” I said.
“Follow me,” Haruyama answered. We followed him and his group to a nice beach house. “Hey!” Haruyama shouted. The owner came rushing up to the front. “These are friends of mine,” Haruyama told the owner, “they are going to stay here—no charge. Take good care of them!”
“Yes sir, of course,” the owner said quickly.
My last chance meeting with Haruyama actually involves his sister, not him. After I left the Kyokushin organization and started World Oyama Karate, I continued visiting Japan three or four times a year to teach clinics, oversee tournaments and conduct promotion tests, among other things. Shihan Goda is one of my oldest friends and is still a top executive in the Kyokushin organization. Whenever I visit Japan, he usually picks me up from the airport. During one of my visits about five years ago, he had an interesting surprise for me when he picked me up from the airport.
I had written about my memories of training with Haruyama on the Oyama Karate Japanese website. Haruyama’s sister had read my essay and reached out to Shihan Goda. So, Shihan Goda arranged for her, her son, and me to meet at my hotel on my text trip to Japan.
Haruyama’s sister was a very lovely lady. Her son was an international attorney and travelled frequently between Tokyo and New York. I couldn’t believe it. There didn’t seem any way possible that these were members of Haruyama’s family. Haruyama had died a long time ago, about age 23, in a car accident. His sister said that at his funeral, people came from all over to pay their respects and wreathes of flowers lined the streets of the funeral procession for miles and miles. We shared other stories with her and Shihan Goda and I told her about how much of a hard time Haruyama had given us in the dojo. But even though he’d beaten us up so much, it was because of him that we were still involved in Karate. I felt like God had somehow arranged everything, that even long after Haruyama’s death, there was still an invisible string connecting all of us and bringing us together.
During college, I still trained at the dojo and helped instruct. However, my passion for Karate wasn’t where it had been before. By the time I was a senior at Meiji University, I wasn’t going to the dojo much at all, but was rather trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life after I graduated. It was during this time that a big-shot event producer, Mr. Noguchi, visited Mas Oyama’s ramshackle dojo in Ikebukuro. He wanted to put on a series of matches that feature Karate vs. Muay Thai. He thought it would be a multi-million dollar deal (bigger even than McGreggor vs. Maywheather).